RSA8 Students Lead the Way

This week marks Student Volunteering Week (11– 17 February 2019), so what better way to start than reflecting on the RSA8 Student Leadership University Planning day.

On Friday 1 February, 50 Year 8 students from across five schools in the RSA Family of Academies, RSA Academy Tipton, Holyhead School, Ipsley CE RSA Academy, Church Hill Middle School, and Whitley Academy, came together for a leadership workshop at the University of Warwick. This workshop formed part of a series of activities under RSA8. Now in its fifth year, RSA8 encourages Year 8 students to become active participants in their communities by developing their own youth-led social action projects that address a key issue in their local areas.

Developing student leadership is a significant element of the RSA Academies commitment to preparing students for the ‘World Beyond School’. Within our school communities we want young people to be creative, show initiative, demonstrate that they can relate their learning to wider society and champion positive social change.

The #iwill campaign highlights the positive impact of participating in high-quality social action can be two-fold, with a ‘double benefit’ for both the community, and those young people involved in leading the change.

Recent research by the RSA, Teenagency: How young people can create a better world has identified that this ‘double benefit’ is particularly important for young people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. As a result, the RSA8 programme particularly encourages participation from pupil premium students, looked after children, and young carers. Additionally, many of the schools involved in the programme serve communities with above average levels of social and economic deprivation.

The day kickstarted with an introduction from Arvind Batra, Student Leadership Coordinator for RSA Academies. This was quickly followed by a welcome talk from Maria Kehr, The University of Warwick’s Widening Participation Officer, who introduced the school groups to current students at the university who were then able to take them on a tour of the campus. The school student leaders were able to ask their university student guide questions about student life and the in-depth, subject rich learning that studying at university offers.

Following the campus tour, students dived straight into the pressing question of the day, what do we mean by social action? Here the students were guided by Bethan from Uprising, a national youth leadership organisation. This question became the starting point for students to discuss among their group, what were the problems that they themselves saw in their communities? Each school group was able to identify a wide range of social issues that students had experienced for themselves or were aware of on their doorstep. Poor mental wellbeing among young people, a lack of understanding around different cultures, and period poverty were just some of the many pressing issues that were raised by students.

Bethan helped the students develop their language around these topics in order to talk about these issues confidently, including defining what do we mean by socio-economic deprivation, how does this impact the issues you have discussed? What is a ‘social movement’? Here students were given the opportunity to demonstrate their keen social awareness of key conversations taking place within politics and the media, including being able to give key examples of social movements such as Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo campaigns.

The student leaders were next asked to draw a tree diagram and to think about the ‘leaves’ as symptoms that you can see, while below the surface the ‘roots’ are what causes these issues. Students spent time mind mapping the different between these two concepts which helped to build their understanding of what action might be needed to overcome the symptoms and raise awareness of the root cause. Next, it was time to put these ideas into action by developing their own social action project that will have a wider impact on their school community and test their newly gained skills.

Following careful thought, each group was asked to present their project idea to their fellow 40 student leaders and teachers. The day celebrated students developing confidence in their own voice to convey the urgency of their chosen social issue and champion their proposed action. Following each presentation, fellow students were invited to respectfully challenge each other by asking questions and problem solving together.

Students’ proposed social action projects included:

  • Setting up therapy rooms for students to access when feeling emotionally overwhelmed or in need of a safe space to talk about their wellbeing
  • Working with a local foodbank to help organise a community collection for food items and sanitary products with the aim to destigmatise these services
  • Organising a litter clean-up day to make space for a rock garden honouring final year student with the hope of inspiring students to take more pride in their school environment
  • Creating a new school language festival involving students, parents, and local residents to celebrate diversity and the wide range of languages spoken across the community
  • Campaigning to local politicians to improve road safety around their school following a number of tragic accidents that have directly affected school students

Finally, after all this hard work it was time for dinner, and what better than the classic university student staple, pizza. Once again students were given a taste of university life, mixing with their peers from different schools, backgrounds, and with different interests. To highlight this important social aspect of university, Arvind and Maria had organised a special treat for the group, with a performance workshop from the Warwick Improvised Theatre Society. Not only did students get the chance to learn more about the wide range of societies and interests nurtured at universities, this also proved to be an exciting way to further build on the skills learnt throughout the day, including confidence presenting to an audience, teamwork, and creative thinking.

With the planning workshop complete, the 50 student leaders will now go back to their schools to start putting their projects into action. Watch this space to see the power that youth-led action has to inspire a new generation to become socially conscious individuals with the skills to support positive social change in their communities.

Related project: Student Leadership Programme